Pac-12 Football Season Starts
With COVID-19 spreading, many sports organizations have had to create new protocols or cancel their seasons altogether. Pressure rose as football fans urged the Power 5 conferences to continue with their regularly scheduled football season. Originally planning to cancel their season, Pac-12 decided to work against these challenges to ensure that there would be a season for its college football players. In order to do so, the conference had to adhere to strict guidelines that include a rigorous COVID-19 testing schedule. The promise of rapid COVID-19 testing helped convince the conference that they would be able to provide a safe, reliable way to continue the season while limiting the risk to player health.
In order to participate players are subject to daily antigen testing and weekly polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. PCR tests are to be taken within 36 hours of travel. On game day a third-party administrator will test all teams and officials using an antigen test. If results come back as positive there will be an air ambulance on-site for transport and the possibility of canceling or postponing a game. All other state and local protocols must be followed in addition to the guidelines set by Pac-12.
As the season continues new challenges present themselves. More players are testing positive resulting in schools pulling out of games. The season began on November 6. In only its first week 4 out of 12 games were canceled due to COVID-19 cases. Washington State has had two consecutive games canceled including the highly anticipated Apple Cup against rival school Washington who has also had two games canceled. Both teams hope to reschedule the Apple Cup for a later date. The date currently being discussed is December 19. However, if either team qualifies for the conference championship game then another date will be chosen for the rescheduling. Several other schools have also faced challenges resulting in the cancellation of games: Houston has had four consecutive cancellations and Colorado is unable to practice for two weeks as the County of Boulder banned any congregations of university students ages 18 to 22.
Such high numbers of cancellations have pushed the Pac-12 to agree to participate in non-conference games. They urge that games will only be played if non-conference schools follow the guidelines set by Pac-12 and that all games be home games. However, the conference does believe in finding in-conference matchups before venturing out. Pac-12 matched up California and UCLA after last-minute cancellations from their opponents, Arizona State and Utah respectively. In response to the Apple Bowl cancelation, Washington reached out to BYU, a non-conference team in the hopes of competing. BYU has denied the offer thus far. They do not want to begin practice for a game that they aren’t guaranteed to play. Another possibility for their resistance to agree to the game is that BYU is waiting on their CFP ranking before making a decision. The rankings won’t be revealed until Tuesday, November 24. It is unclear whether or not Washington will wait that long for a decision.
Currently, USC and Oregon are at the top of the conference with a 3-0 win streak. Colorado and Washington follow closely behind with 2-0. Arizona and California struggle at the latter with a 0-2 losing streak. Over the span of the season, teams have shown resilience and determination despite their wins and losses. They pave the way for innovation. The conference championship is scheduled for December 18 and the College Football Playoff National Championship is scheduled for Monday, January 11, 2021.
Volleyball and soccer, which are traditionally fall sports, are working to prepare for their postponed spring seasons. Both will be considered for return on January 1, 2021. Women’s and men’s basketball will begin on the NCAA start date of November 25. As long as there are no conflicts with local guidelines teams will be able to start practices as regularly scheduled. Women’s basketball is currently scheduled for a 22 game season. Commissioner Larry Scott says there is still discussion on December conference games and protocol regarding non-league opponents. He can confirm that all non-league teams will be subjected to the same COVID-19 testing schedule as Pac-12 teams in order to ensure the safety of the players.
Despite the postponement of some seasons, student-athletes have been promised the fulfillment of their scholarships. NCAA grants students who opt-out of competition will receive an additional year of eligibility. Scott expressed sympathy towards athletes and their families stating “We will continue to monitor the situation and when conditions change we will be ready to explore all options to play the impacted sports in the new calendar year.” All further scheduling is subject to change as a result of new information regarding COVID-19 and the withdrawal of schools from competition.